“Hookup Culture” does not exist

An elephant crouches under the water, whose trunk pops out appearing to make a Loch Ness monster sighting.

The Loch Ness Monster, among other things that are not real.

When I first heard about the Air Force’s top commander, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, dismissing cases of sexual assault in the military as a result of “hookup mentality”, I was obviously upset for many of the same reasons that Katie expressed yesterday. Why are we associating consensual sex with rape? But I was also upset that the term “hookup culture” was being used in the first place as a serious thing.

Sex is sex. Not only that, people have been engaging in sexual activity — spontaneously, pre-maritally, extra-maritally, unmarried, with the opposite sex, with the same sex, but most important, consensually — way before us under 30 people were even born. Assuming that today’s youth are more engaged in deviant sexual practices and dismissing their sexual activity as part of a specific culture pathologizes sexually active young people. (I’d also like to add that the term “hooking up” itself is very white culturally specific. Which contributes to the panic surrounding it. It is implied that “good” kids are now having sex as a result of  “bad” trend created by their peers.)

Hookup culture is another one of those things we use to blame young people and women (because women’s sexuality is always under evaluation) for the issues affecting their communities, like sexual assault and high STD contraction rates, while continuing to deny them access to comprehensive health care and sex education. But it’s not really a “thing” at all. It’s the same sex that people have been having for years. Some people just call it hooking up.

Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/msmarkonis/ Matt Markonis

    Making a claim that something is culture-based is effectively the opposite of pathologizing it, in fact, it’s a form of acculturation, and it’s obviously not “white,” or “culturally specific,” if, as the author claims, it describes a particular kind of sexual relation of which anyone is capable: if it’s just that, by definition it can’t be culturally specific.

    The author uses the royal “we” absurdly. I’m not using the term “hook up” culture to deny reproductive rights, and I’d be surprised if the writers at Feministing were doing so.

    • http://feministing.com/members/franziakafka/ Franzia Kafka

      “Making a claim that something is culture-based is effectively the opposite of pathologizing it, in fact, it’s a form of acculturation”: Sorry, this makes no sense. I have no idea how (1) placing something in the context of culture and (2) pathologizing something are mutually exclusive. Many types of cultures (or sub-cultures) are pathologized (gay people, polyamorous people, atheists).

      “it describes a particular kind of sexual relation of which anyone is capable”: Just because “anyone is capable of it” does not mean that is how it is spoken about, written about, or perceived by most people. :/

      • http://feministing.com/members/msmarkonis/ Matt Markonis

        A social pathology is going to be something that is (a) deviant/abnormal or (b) dysfunctional. If you’re making an argument that it’s neither then it’s a cultural phenomenon that isn’t pathological in either the social or medical sense. That’s not pathologizing it, so if you’re talking about hook-up culture in the sense that it’s a cultural phenomenon in a sense that isn’t deviant or dysfunctional, which some people do, indeed, which this author does, then it’s not pathologizing it.

        If you’d like to pretend that everyone who criticizes hook-up culture is pathologizing it, which isn’t true, then you’re free to do that, but it’s dishonest to characterize my point as merely semantics. But making an argument that because everybody else (who exactly?) talks about it that way and therefore that’s how everybody who’s left should talk about it is pretty disempowered. It’s more valuable to talk about accurate than extant perceptions in my book.

  • http://feministing.com/members/elo11/ ELot


    And on that note, I’d like to add the reminder that this past week was International Clitoris Awareness Week. http://online.wsj.com/article/PR-CO-20130503-910456.html

    The article ignores trans folks in its discussion, but it does supply fascinating info on this powerful organ, and this reminder: “Sexual expression brings self-esteem and inner balance, so let’s revere the clitoris in all its glory while completely free of shame and guilt!”

    We will be sure to celebrate.

  • honeybee

    Can someone clarify how “hook-up” culture is “white”? I’m not white myself so I dunno if that’s why but I don’t see how this is specific to a given race or culture.

    • http://feministing.com/members/msmarkonis/ Matt Markonis

      It’s not, it’s a cute albeit racist jab at normative culture.

      • http://feministing.com/members/elo11/ ELot

        May I suggest you learn what racism is.

        • http://feministing.com/members/msmarkonis/ Matt Markonis

          You may suggest whatever you like without my approval, but you haven’t established that I don’t know what it is: an attitude of superiority attributed to racial difference. Plenty of social commentary, etc. is racist and it’s no matter to point it out: to the extent that she’s trying to be cute/funny, it plays.

    • http://feministing.com/members/knatx/ Steve

      The author is being racist.